02/06/09 — Band proves some doves live long lives

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Band proves some doves live long lives

By Mike Marsh
Published in Sports on February 6, 2009 1:46 PM

Dove hunters should always check their harvested birds for bands. The aluminum bracelets are tiny and can easily be missed when a dove is collected and placed in a game vest.

Getting too busy and talking with hunting buddies while cleaning them can also result in missed bands.

During the latter part of dove hunting season I took a banded dove, one of several I've harvested over the six years of the cooperative state and federal banding study. It took a few weeks to receive the certificate of appreciation for turning in the band number. But the handsome card eventually arrived via U.S. mail and I placed it in a scrapbook with all my other dove, duck and goose-band certificates.

I even have one for a seagull. I found a leg bone with a band encircling it beneath a power line. I can only surmise that the bird met its end when it didn't watch where it was flying and struck a wire.

According to the card, the dove had been banded by Doug Howell, a Wildlife Biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. However, Howell said during a phone call that while his name was on the card for the data reporting, the dove was actually banded by commission management staff at the Holly Shelter Wildlife Depot. The bird was banded near Burgaw in Pender County.

According to the card, it was female and banded July 19, 2006. The dove was hatched in 2005 or earlier, so it was an adult when banded.

I knew such an ancient dove was an anomaly. Most information about mourning doves says they don't live very long. They are prey species with high reproductive and mortality rates. Therefore, a dove three years of age or older should be of interest to a biologist.

Joe Fuller is the commission's Migratory Game Bird Coordinator. He responded to a request for more information about dove ages that may have been revealed by the banding study.

"This is kind of unusual as we don't get many recoveries past one year," he said. "Most are shot the hunting season immediately following the banding. The only data that I can quickly recover is for doves banded in 2003. From that year, we had two doves banded in North Carolina killed three years later.

"Nationwide, from the 2003 banding year, there were 62 doves shot three years after banding."

Howell gave other interesting statistics on dove mortality revealed by the banding study. Harvest rates, which are the proportions of the dove population harvested each year, for states east of the Mississippi River in the Eastern Management Unit for doves, are 10 percent for juveniles and 7 percent for adults.

In the sub-region that includes Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, the harvest rate for juveniles is 9 percent and the harvest rate for adults is 5 percent. In the same sub-region, the annual survival rate is 22 percent for juveniles and 39 percent for adults.

The harvest distribution for doves banded in North Carolina is fairly indicative of harvest distribution in other states participating in the study. Band recoveries show 98.5 percent of doves banded in North Carolina are harvested in North Carolina, with 1 percent harvested in Georgia and 0.5 percent in South Carolina. Less than one percent of banded doves harvested in North Carolina were banded in other states including Maryland, South Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Commission personnel have banded more than 8,000 doves since the program began and it has helped biologists gather more information about the South's number one game bird. Fuller said a dove that had migrated at least twice and returned to the same location proved that she was either very wary or very lucky.

The miracle of migration never ceases to amaze those of us who hunt ducks, doves and other migratory game birds. Discovering a bird wearing a band is always a thrill. It's on par with opening a box of Cracker Jacks when you were a kid and digging with your fingers to find the surprise inside.

When a hunter calls in a band number or reports it online or by U.S. mail, there is always a childlike anticipation about discovering where the bird was banded and all the other details.

Every hunter should report banded birds. The fact that the information is key to helping biologists make wise management decisions is reason enough to report all bands.

But receiving that certificate in the mail is just plain fun.